Defense dominates: 10 takeaways from Saints and Packers first joint practice

·9 min read

Tuesday’s joint practice between the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers provided a lot of entertainment, especially if you’re a fan of good defense. But beyond that, Saints fans were treated to some positive injury news around several stars and great play from key members of the roster. Meanwhile, it’s clear the value of joint practices in Green Bay, including practicing against unfamiliar opponents and simply getting out of the heat. Here are our key takeaways from the first Saints and Packers combined practice.

Biggest story: QB Jameis Winston is back, sort of

As practice opened today, the Saints’ starting quarterback made his first appearance since injuring his foot ahead of last week’s practices. He started off in pads as he got some individual work in before walk throughs and drills. He then went back to the locker rooms, removed the pads, and then returned to the practice fields to observe and root on his team.

There were several moments where I saw Winston run out on the field to congratulate players on good plays or share what I assume would be insight into the defense with his fellow signal callers. It was a good sign seeing Winston out there, even though he did not participate. Head coach Dennis Allen said that they would get a look at their starting quarterback before the next practice on Wednesday morning to determine if he would get involved moving forward. I would keep expectations low there, no need to rush him back. The team still considers him day-to-day.

Biggest play: Bradley Roby grabs sixth interception of camp

While we have rightfully paid a ton of attention this offseason to the impressive play of cornerback Paulson Adebo, his veteran colleague Bradley Roby has been outstanding as well. Roby notched his sixth pick of camp today on a Jordan Love deep shot that he was able to angle and get under in time to take away. Roby didn’t get lost in coverage against a streaking receiver down the sideline and showed his ability to hang on the hip of his competition. He remained poised and in position and made a leaping grab for the interception, looking like he was running the route for his assignment. Another standout play by the veteran corner who just keeps showing up.

Defense dominates: Two of the best in the league

The Saints and Packers both have very stout defenses and they both showed up to play today. New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore said of what he learned on Tuesday, “I think we dominated.” It’s hard to disagree with the four-time Pro Bowler. In the early period of team drills, neither offense could get much going. Great pressure from both fronts and good coverage from each team’s secondary made it hard for quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton to connect with their first-team skill position players

Things got a little better for the two passers during redzone drills, where Rodgers connected on what looked to be two passing touchdowns and Dalton and running back Alvin Kamara connected on a walk-in of their own after a nasty Kamara pivot route.

But the defenses reclaimed their crowns in two-minutes drills, not allowing a single offensive unit to find the endzone. Rodgers, Dalton, Love, Ian Book, and Danny Etling all got their chances and couldn’t make anything happen. Rodgers was closest, leading the drive down the field after a questionable sideline grab by Allen Lazard was called a catch rather than a C.J. Gardner-Johnson pass break up (PBU) but the drive stalled with an incomplete pass on 1st and 10 in the red zone, a throwaway on 2nd and 10 thanks to pressure from linebacker Eric Wilson and defensive tackle Malcolm Brown, and then a PBU by Adebo in the endzone defending a fade route to Green Bay rookie sensation Romeo Doubs. Another showcase for the second-year defender.

Underrated performer: DT Malcolm Roach

A lot has been made of the Saints’ defensive interior this offseason. Who will be the starter next to David Onyemata? While you don’t have to be a starter on Allen’s defensive line to get meaningful snaps, it is a question worth asking who gets the early-situational reps. Roach made a great claim for himself today making several plays in the backfield. He was disruptive in both the run and passing game and doing it all against an unfamiliar opponent only speaks more highly of the former Texas Longhorn.

Homecomings: LB Zack Baun and OT Ryan Ramczyk

It was great to watch Baun and Ramczyk before and after practice get to greet fans in both black and gold and green and yellow. The two players walk the line of fan devotion because of their collegiate playing days as Wisconsin Badgers. Ramczyk highlighted in his post-practice presser that he used to watch practices in the very location he got some team reps today (a good sign for his recovery, by the way). Similarly, Baun shared with New Orleans and Wisconsin media his joy to be back home and back out on the field. The linebacker has been out for the last week or so with a hamstring injury as defined by his head coach this afternoon. Both players said that they are going into this week with the expectation of playing in Friday’s game at Lambeau Field. We’ll see if that becomes a reality based on the rest of their week, but it’s great to see them both back and participating and getting to do so in front of friendly faces of each fandom.

Trending up: WR Rasheed Shahid

Kick and punt returns are few and far between in practices, but you can see that Shahid was at least getting a ton of opportunities fielding them even without the opportunity to run one back. One can safely assume that could mean the Weber State alum is in line for some return chances in Friday’s preseason matchup. If he’s able to light up the field a bit with the incredible resume he had as a returner in college, he could become a sneaky receiver to watch.  Here are some of his astonishing career highlights from Weber State’s official website:

Rashid finished his amazing Wildcat career in 2021. He ended his career as the FCS all-time leader in kickoff return touchdowns with seven. He is the only player in Weber State history to earn All-American honors four times. He also earned first-team All-Big Sky honors four times, one of three players in history to do so.  

He finished his career as Weber State’s all-time leader in career kickoff return average at 29.1 yards per return. He played in 53 games in his Wildcat career and finished his career with 5,478 all-purpose yards, which ranks as the third most in WSU history, and is also third in career punt return yardage. He is also seventh in career receiving yards with 2,178 yards and 18 touchdowns and ranks 10th in career receptions with 147. 

Attendance: Lots of returns to be excited about

Players we did not see at today’s practice:

  • LB Pete Werner

  • TE Nick Vannett

That’s it. That’s the list. And for the better, per NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill Vannett’s absence is connected to illness rather than injury. As Vannett stays home to rest up and get well, we can already write his name down in pen to miss tomorrow’s joint practice as well since he didn’t make the trip.

Werner is still out dealing with the groin injury that held him out of practices to begin camp. It has since become a repeated issue Allen explained last week. That did give players like Chase Hansen, Eric Wilson and Baun more opportunities to see the field, which they made good on.

OL Landon Young left practice early and did not return. No update has been given on his status as of now. We’ll keep an eye out for him tomorrow.

New faces: New linebacker and edge rushers make their Saints debut

Newly-signed Saints linebacker Jon Bostic and edge rusher Niko Lalos were present today. Bostic wore No. 47 while Lalo claimed Scott Patchan’s old number: No. 61. Bostic had the more standout day of the two with a few active and disciplined plays in run defense.

The former Washington Commanders linebacker had back-to-back 100+ tackle seasons in 2019 and 2020. His 2021 was cut short with injury. He now has a chance to potentially land a roster spot in a linebacker room that is in need of veteran depth and that has been oft-impacted by injury this offseason.

Key returns to practice: Alontae Taylor and Taysom Hill take steps forward in their recoveries

Along with Baun returning to practice in front of his home-state fans and Winston making his way back to observe, rookie cornerback Alontae Taylor retunred as well. Taylor had been out with what Allen referred to as a hip flexor injury last week and did not appear in the weekend’s preseason matchup against the Houston Texans. He was present today, though did not participate much from what we could see.

Hill was finally back in a black jersey on Tuesday. No more non-contact days for the Saints tight end. He had an impressive grab over the middle in team drills and participated quite a bit.

Other practice notes: Competitors love join practices

It was clear throughout today’s practice that competition was at another level. No, there were no fights or scuffles or anything like that. But there was a lot of talking back and forth. At one point, Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson was firing off at Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander (who wears No. 23) that the Saints in fact “have the real 2-3.” There was also a moment in special teams drills where receiver Tre’Quan Smith had what I’m sure was a pleasant exchange with a couple of Packers players who he beat in their gunner-jammer drills.

Rookie offensive lineman Trevor Penning will keep getting better with more exposure. There were a couple of plays where Penning was beat by Packers pass rushers. But the first-round draft pick continues to grind and forget previous reps while focusing on his development. He doesn’t look to get frustrated with himself or hang his head. He’s always moving with urgency for each and every snap. It’s a good quality to witness when trying to gauge his confidence.

I think Chase Hansen is going to get a roster spot. The Saints have clearly favored the former Utah linebacker for some time as often as they’ve invested in him, and with good reason. He had what may have been the best defensive performance against the Texans Saturday night and returned today against the Packers with a few splash plays including a sack on Rodgers after blitzing the A-gap. If he stays healthy, I think it will be hard to keep him off the 53-man roster.

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Story originally appeared on Saints Wire